The AP reports: Trevor Ariza’s(notes) clutch steals are punching a dagger in Denver’s season just as much as Kobe Bryant’s(notes) big baskets. For the second time in three games, Ariza stole an inbounds pass in the final minute to help Los Angeles beat the Nuggets, this time 103-97 at the Pepsi Center for a 2-1 lead that restored the Lakers’ home-court advantage in the Western Conference finals. Ariza, whose steal of Anthony Carter’s(notes) lazy lob sealed the Lakers’ win in the series opener, sliced in front of Carmelo Anthony(notes) to swipe Kenyon Martin’s(notes) inbounds pass with the Lakers clinging to a two-point lead with 36 seconds left… “Trevor, he’s very crafty, he’s long, he’s fast, he’s quick and he’s a ball hog,” said Bryant, who scored 41 points… Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points but just three after halftime, and Denver lost at home for the first time since March 9.

InsideHoops.com notes: The Lakers shot 45.8%, the Nuggets 39.3%. Both teams struggled from three-point range, with the Lakers hitting 6-of-19, the Nuggets just 5-of-27. And the Lakers had 45 free throw attempts but only hit 31 of them, while the Nuggets connected on 26-of-51.

For the Lakers, Bryant (12-of-24, 15-of-17 free throws) had 41 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Pau Gasol (7-of-12) had 20 points and 11 rebounds. Trevor Ariza (5-of-8, 3-of-5 three-pointers) had 16 points. Derek Fisher had 3 steals.

For the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony (just 4-of-13, but 12-of-14 free throws) had 21 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals, but more turnovers than assists. Chauncey Billups (just 5-of-15) had 18 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Chris Andersen (6-of-9) was great off the bench with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Nene had 13 points. J.R. Smith (just 4-of-15) had 10 points and 6 assists. Dahntay Jones scored 10.